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Is Coronavirus A Pandemic? Don’t Panic Yet
As new cases of coronavirus are reported everywhere from California to Italy, people around the world are understandably worried. With so many countries reporting incidences of coronavirus, you might be wondering — is coronavirus a pandemic? More than 2,000 cases of COVID-19, also known as coronavirus, have been identified outside of China, where the outbreak began, but so far the World Health Organization (WHO) has refrained from classifying coronavirus as a pandemic, and the situation isn’t as dire as you may think.
According to , at least 47 countries have identified cases of coronavirus. In the United States and Germany, the sources of a couple of these cases could not be traced back to foreign travel, suggesting the virus is now spreading locally. Despite this, both the WHO and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have said that it is too early to describe coronavirus as a pandemic, though the CDC acknowledged the possibility that it could become one. The WHO has classified COVID-19 as a “global health emergency,” while the CDC has described it as an “outbreak” or “epidemic.”
Although all of these classifications are severe, they don’t quite equal the severity of a pandemic. According to Healthline, an epidemic or outbreak is defined as a sudden increase in cases of a specific illness beyond its baseline or expected level for a certain region. On the other hand, a pandemic is more serious, and is defined as an epidemic which has spread across multiple countries or continents, typically affecting a much larger population. The last reported pandemic was the 2009 spread of the H1N1 flu, per CNN, which killed anywhere from 151,700 and 575,400 people around the world.
On Feb. 24, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus explained the classification while speaking to reporters in Geneva, noting the organization only applies the classification of “pandemic” to illnesses that see multiple self-sustaining outbreaks in regions around the globe. “For the moment, we are not witnessing the uncontained global spread of this coronavirus, and we are not witnessing large-scale severe disease or death,” he said.
It’s also difficult for health officials to talk about pandemics because of how pop culture has shaped people’s perception of them. From Michael Crichton’s to Richard Preston’s , not to mention pretty much every zombie movie ever made, sci-fi books and movies over the years have tackled pandemics in which people around the world suddenly and mysteriously fall ill and die. In reality, an illness like coronavirus — while clearly worrisome — is not a completely mysterious, unknown entity that is going to suddenly kill half the world’s population.
In fact, according to , 80% of the coronavirus cases that have been identified in China are actually pretty mild, similar to a common cold. Citing a Feb. 17 study from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, reported that less than 5% of Chinese coronavirus cases have been classified as critical, and less than 14% are severe. The mild nature of the illness can make it more difficult to contain coronavirus, per , because many people might not realize they have it — but it also means most people are likely to recover from and even develop immunity to coronavirus.
Even if coronavirus isn’t technically a pandemic per the WHO’s definition, there are still steps you can take to minimize your chances of being infected. According to the CDC, the precautions you can take are similar to those you should be taking during flu season. You should wash your hands regularly, with the CDC recommending you wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after using the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. You should also make sure to cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you sneeze, and avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth as much as possible. And of course, stay home from work or school when you’re sick, and drink lots of fluids.
Most importantly, according to , health officials are encouraging people not to panic. Fear is a natural response to a new illness like coronavirus, but there’s no need to panic quite yet. There’s a lot of misinformation about coronavirus out there, but what’s important to remember now is you can take steps to keep yourself safe.
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